Tuesday 30 September 2014

Solidarity with the "Umbrella Revolution" !

"This was the weekend that changed everything in Hong Kong. Mass popular resistance on the streets, by night and day, with mass gatherings of 100,000 and up to 180,000, spearheaded by the youth and a weeklong student strike, has forced the unelected Hong Kong government and thousands of heavily armed riot police to beat a retreat."

The inspiring struggle on the streets of Hong Kong, led by youth but with the support of other workers, especially teachers, is being supported by trade unionists across the world.

Thanks to chinaworker.info we have been able to download posters to send messages of support to Hong Kong - and here's ours from Lewisham NUT.

For a socialist analysis of the struggle from those in the midst of the battle, read further on: 

社會主義行動 Socialist Action (CWI-Hong Kong) members leading a public forum at the Mong Kok occupation
At today's meeting of the NUT National Executive, members signed the following petition, which can also be found on ipetitions:
We, the undersigned, support the right of Hong Kong citizens to decide who they want to vote for as Chief Executive rather than just to have a choice of candidates who are vetted and approved by Beijing.
We strongly condemn the Hong Kong police’s use of tear gas, pepper spray, batons against the protesting students and the public who only had towels, cling film and umbrellas to protect them.
We support Hong Kong teachers and other workers, who are taking strike action against police brutality and for the right for Hong Kong citizens to choose their own candidates.
们强烈谴责直接听命于特区政府的香港警察使用催泪瓦斯,喷雾胡椒, 警棍暴力驱散只有毛巾,保鲜膜,雨伞保护自己的学生和示威民众!


Monday 29 September 2014

Teacher Workload - shocking stories require union action

The size of the response to the NUT's workload survey - with over 16,000 online forms completed in just four days - is itself a clear indication of just how strongly teachers feel about the appalling working conditions they are facing. 

"I am fed up of seeing my colleagues near to breaking point, and there isn’t a week goes by where I don’t see someone crying. This has to stop. (Primary teacher, Trafford, NUT survey)"

Full details of the survey have been released this morning by the NUT. The results should be enough to stir a Government that genuinely cared about education into acting immediately to genuinely reduce teacher workload. However, this is not such a Government. Therefore, it's the NUT that will have to act on the results.

Sad and shocking
The detailed content of the responses are both sad and shocking, starkly revealing the reality of the low morale and excessive workload facing teachers:
  • 90% report that they have considered leaving teaching in the last two years
  • 87% know at least one teacher who has left because of workload in the last two years
  • 96.5% say that workload has negative consequences for family or personal life

This latest cartoon by teacher Marcus Owen sums up many of the comments made in the NUT Workload Survey by teachers who find it impossible to spend time outside school hours with their families and friends:

"I hate the fact that I am sometimes willing my children to go to sleep just so that I can work. It's not right.
(Early years teacher, Cornwall, NUT survey)"

Bad for teachers, bad for education

These levels of workload aren't just bad for teachers, they are bad for education as a whole. Stressed and exhausted staff can't properly meet youngsters' needs. Schools staffed only by teachers without family responsibilities aren't going to provide the range of experience needed for a rounded education. 

Of course, if this excessive workload continues, some schools will struggle to be fully staffed at all - or certainly only by a constantly changing staff which will provide no stability for schools, nor for the children they serve:

"I know so many people of all ages and stages of their teaching career who've quit, and I think about it at least 3 times a week … and I've only been teaching 2 years.
(Secondary teacher, Shropshire, NUT Survey)".

What is to be done?

Unfortunately, these facts and figures alone won't be enough to change things for the better. What's needed is collective trade union action.

Excessive workload isn't happening by accident. Today's mainstream politicians are more interested in slashing public spending for the benefit of the wealthy rather than providing comprehensive education that meets the needs of all. 

The new Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, may decide to take a less provocative approach than Michael Gove did before her *, but George Osborne has made quite clear that public spending will only be getting tighter under his charge. After all, those who can afford to pay for small class sizes - and for teachers with at least a little more time to prepare and teach a properly rounded curriculum - can make sure their children are educated in the independent sector!

Some politicians - and, regrettably, some short-sighted Heads - will be quite happy to continue with a rapid turnover of young staff, lowering pay bills and increasing 'productivity' as teachers are worked into the ground before being replaced by a new set of recruits looking for an income. 

That's why, over years, I and other Conference delegates from Socialist Party Teachers and LANAC have argued for national action on workload, to stop the growing demands on teachers. In 2012, the NUT and NASUWT did successfully ballot members to allow both strike action and action short of strike action to defend working conditions - as well as pay.

As part of that campaign, national strike action has helped persuade the Government to pull back from Gove's plans to make teachers' conditions even worse by removing the 1265 hours/195 day directed working time limits. However, our
open-ended contract, that sets no limit on our overall working time, remains in place. 

Under constant pressure from Ofsted, league tables and threats of academisation, Heads pile the pressure on staff to do even more work outside the classroom. Staff are put under even more pressure and scrutiny. In this latest NUT survey,
  • 80% say that marking policy now causes excessive workload
  • 70% cite excessive data entry and analysis requirements
  • 62% point to Ofsted preparations and “mocksteds” 
  • 68% want more achievable appraisal targets
  • 67% want more PPA time
  • 65% want smaller classes

National action needed

If we are serious about winning the changes we need, then we need a serious campaign of national action to win a binding national contract that protects teachers from the excessive demands being made on them.

The results of this workload survey should be just the encouragement teachers need to return the consultative ballot papers arriving this week - and to return a YES, YES vote for further campaigning and strike action. But they should also provide the encouragement for colleagues on the National Executive to then put that action in place, setting out a clear calendar of action that teachers can see is intended to win clear improvements for teachers and education, not just to protest at how bad things have become.

The latest NUT manifesto makes some good points about broader education policy, such as the need to return oversight of schools to local authorities. However, we need to also clearly set out our key demands on workload, pay and pensions to teachers, parents and politicians. In the ongoing LANAC reps' survey (open for responses until October 22nd via https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/LANACrepssurvey) two proposed demands on workload are getting clear support so far:
  • End our open-ended contracts: a fixed limit on overall working hours 
  • 20% minimum PPA for all teachers in all sectors
Of course, winning these demands means defeating 'austerity' as well. Then the teachers needed to properly meet all children's needs could be recruited - and employed under acceptable working conditions.

Local action needed as well

While building the national action that can continue to put pressure on this - and the next - Government to legislate for changes that would apply to all teachers, then local action by the best-organised school union groups can help protect colleagues from excessive demands. Co-ordinated action across schools can help overcome isolation. Victories need to be publicised to encourage other teachers and school groups to take the same approach.

Different school groups may have different priorities, depending on circumstances. However, the existing instructions under the ongoing ballot for 'action short of strike action' has sufficient flexibility to cover  a range of issues and forms of action, including escalation to local strike action too.

Discussing with school reps, and looking at the national NUT workload survey results, some of the key issues that could be used as focuses for local action might be:
  • Enforcing legal limits such as 'rarely cover' and directed hours
  • Demanding a marking policy that meets work/life balance requirements
  • Enforcing the '21 admin tasks' particularly in relation to data input / data analysis
  • Winning observation protocols and appraisal policies that do not depend on graded observations of lessons
  • Collective action to oppose denial of mainscale pay progression and the imposition of unreasonable targets
LANAC's Steering Committee in Leeds on Saturday October 11th will be discussing exactly these kinds of actions - both local and national - and how we can build the confidence needed to build them in our schools and Local Associations.

Local action is never straightforward as it can soon become a sharp struggle between a school staff and its management - but, if we are going to rewrite the shocking stories in the NUT workload survey, then that action needs to be taken.

Details of the Survey via the NUT website: http://www.teachers.org.uk/node/22376

 * UPDATE 30.9.14 - Nicky Morgan's Speech to Tory Conference:

Today, Nicky Morgan did, indeed, adopt a more conciliatory tone - while still making very clear that she stands fully behind free schools and academisation. 

Significantly, she acknowledged that teacher workload was a problem, saying "I don’t want my child to be taught by someone too tired, too stressed and too anxious to do the job well". However, no concrete changes in policy were announced.

Morgan went on to say that "I have set two priorities: Firstly… to do everything I can to reduce the overall burden on teachers… and second… to ensure that teachers spend more time in the classroom teaching". An interesting sound-bite but what exactly does that second priority mean in practice? If, in fact, it means reducing staffing costs by reducing PPA even further, then this is dangerous double-speak.

The NUT can rightly be pleased that Nicky Morgan has been forced to acknowledge that there is a workload problem but we mustn't be fooled by Tory platitudes. Morgan would be very happy to engage in a long series of talks that then produce some vague agreement that actually has little effect in schools. Now we have to press home our advantage and make sure that we win some meaningful concessions that can really reduce teacher workload.

Friday 26 September 2014

Unacceptable cuts - what sticking to Tory spending plans will mean in Lewisham

At this week's Labour Party Conference, Ed Balls made clear that any future Labour Government will stick to its 'binding fiscal commitment’ to match Tory spending plans.

The latest £40 million of cuts proposals posted yesterday on the Lewisham Council website sadly make clear the real cost of such a commitment. (Lewisham Future Programme papers for the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, Monday, 29th September).

In response, I have made the following comments, in a personal capacity, as part of a press release issued today by TUSC, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition:

Martin Powell-Davies, TUSC spokesperson and National Union of Teachers Lewisham Branch Secretary (personal capacity) said:

“The latest round of cuts announced by the council shows that Labour is failing its own big budget challenge. Having already cut over £100 million worth of jobs and services since 2010 they now propose to cut a further £85 million, starting with £40 million in next year’s budget.

The council by its own admission says that these cuts “are becoming increasingly difficult to identify and implement”. Regrettably, it seems the ‘difficult choices’ that the Council are making will be at the expense of some of the most needy and vulnerable people in the borough.

The latest proposals include plans to close or outsource day centres, youth centres and a sexual health clinic; cut support for the homeless, care packages and meals on wheels; increased charging for adult care services; cuts to a whole range of health services - to name just a few.

The Council plans to save over £4M by reducing the services offered by Children’s Centres, cutting the number of targeted families by a third. The Youth Service could face almost total closure with significant job cuts facing Youth Workers. The future of many community organisations will be threatened by the cuts to grants and services that are proposed.

The only answer to the ‘Big Budget Challenge’ is to refuse to make these unacceptable cuts and to join with trade unionists and the local community to campaign to get back the money that has been stolen from Lewisham by the Government. 

My union branch, Lewisham NUT, agreed this week to write to the three prospective Lewisham Labour candidates for next year’s General Election campaign to ask if they support the reversal of all the cuts in public services and benefits that have taken place under the Con-Dems, including the restoration of central government funding of local authorities to at least the level that existed in 2010.

Unfortunately, there’s no sign that the Labour Party have any intention of doing this. That’s why I’ll be campaigning for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition at the next general election” 
  • Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) was co-founded by the late Bob Crow to begin to build an electoral voice for working-class people. In May 2014, TUSC fielded 560 local election candidates in nearly 90 towns and cities, in the widest socialist challenge to Labour for 60 years. In May 2015 – for both the general and the local elections – we are going to up our game, aiming to stand even more widely, to ensure austerity is not unchallenged at the ballot box.

  • Lewisham Future Programme - Here is a summary of some of the proposals:
    “The Council is now in the fourth year of an eight year long period of resource reduction. Over the period 2010 to 2014 the Council made savings of over £100m. ... This level of continual reduction means that proposals need to be increasingly transformational and are becoming increasingly difficult to identify and implement”.
    “Staff numbers (Headcount) have reduced from 3,997 to 2,745 (-31%) in that time. The scale of this change is important context – a far more radical and transformative approach is now required”.
    “By 2018 it is likely that, as an organisation, we will be one-third smaller than we are now. We now employ less than 3,000 staff and the numbers are bound to fall further”.
    “For several months now we have known that we need to make £95m of budget savings from 2014/15 to 2017/18. This year (2014/15) we made £10m of reductions that will flow into next year. This reduces the total we need to find to some £85m. The profile of the savings we need to make requires us to find in the region of £40m savings for 2015/16 and £45m over the next two years”
     “But the Government then chose, when allocating its spending reductions as part of the national public austerity programme, to allocate the deepest cuts to its financing of local government  ... [and] to focus the budget cuts disproportionally to those Councils with the highest spend - which, of course, also have the highest levels of need ... Lewisham is the 16th most deprived local authority area in England with one of the lowest business bases - it is bound to be effected greatly by these financing changes”
    Savings required 2015/16       2016/17      2017/18       Total
    £m                         39                26               20                85

    The report presents £40.6m of new proposals. These include:

    Section A - Social care & health – proposed cuts of £10.3 million including:

    A1: Cut of £2.7M – Care Packages - cutting the costs of community care packages for the roughly 3,400 adults receiving them  .. a range of cuts to the packages provided including “the Meals on Wheels contract will not be renewed and individuals in receipt of this service will be offered alternative options for the provision of a meal. For example, arranging for them to access supermarket home delivery services”
    A2: Cut of £1.5M - Reduction in cost of Learning Disability provision – “It is a risk that out of borough providers will evict our clients, or encourage families to take legal action against the authority” ... “This is a significant savings target relating mainly to direct service provision. It will potentially result in, or be perceived to result in, a reduction in service quality and client and family choice, both of which have potential reputational risks for the authority
    A4: Cut of £1.3M - Remodelling building based day services - Day centre provision is often used to meet the needs of vulnerable people who are at risk of isolation, to develop life skills and to provide meaningful activities. There are four centres within the borough, provided by in-house services. They are the Leemore centre, Narborhood Centre, Ladywell and Mulberry .. This proposal is to remodel the in-house service so that opportunities are offered to customers in smaller community based groups. As outlined in other proposals, service users will be actively encouraged to make greater use of existing community, leisure and educational facilities and social venues in and outside of the borough. Partnership work with external providers will be further developed to make more creative use of centres and reduce the need for the existing number”.
    A5: Cut of £275K - Charging for Adult Social Care services - proposals to increase changes for non-residential adult social care.The users of these services are vulnerable adults, usually on low incomes. Any increase in charges will reduce the disposable income of some clients although the [income support] buffer of 25% will continue to provide a level of protection to those on the lowest incomes”
    A6/A8: Cut of £3.3M - Public Health programme review – a series of cuts to programmes covering Dental Public Health; Health Inequalities; Mental Health; Health Protection; Maternal and Child Health; NHS Health Checks, Obesity;/Physical Activity- Public Health Advice; Sexual Health.; Smoking and Tobacco Control; Training and Education.
    There is a risk that reducing funding to some of these organisations will destabilise them financially and have a negative impact on the populations they support. Affected organisations include: Forvil; Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) and Voluntary Action Lewisham (VAL)”.
    Decommissioning CAB Money Advice in 12 GP surgeries (£148K) 
    Reduce contract value of sexual health by a further £350k. This would likely mean closure of at least one sexual health clinic.
    Stop/reduce supply of HIV tests to GP practices (£25k)
    Stop funding chlamydia and gonorrhoea screening in GP practices (£26k)
    Reduce the contract value for community health improvement service by limiting service to support mandatory Public health programmes such as NHS Healthchecks only and reduce other health inequalities activity. (£270k) “This would have a major impact on the work on health inequalities throughout the borough, reduce support for various public health programmes, most notably the Healthcheck programme ... It would also make the neighbourhood model of delivery for community development health improvement services extremely challenging to implement”.
    £348K cuts in smoking and tobacco control including by reducing contract value for stop smoking service by £250k (30%), stop most schools and young people’s tobacco awareness programmes: “likely to have a significant impact on the ability of Lewisham to reduce the prevalence of smoking”
    £68K cuts in maternal and child health “Reduce capacity/funding for breast feeding peer support programme & breast feeding cafes” and “child death review process”
    Section B – Supporting People – proposed cuts of £1.35M
    A series of cuts to supported housing and floating support services affecting high-support hostels, shared supported housing and in the community that could affect individual client groups, such as drug and alcohol users, women experiencing violence and exploitation, offenders and rough sleepers .
    The Council paper says clearly:
    Any losses to the floating support service will carry increased risk of more households becoming homeless
    Loss of hostel bed spaces will inevitably lead to pressure elsewhere within council resources
    Further reductions in funding my impact on staff quality and morale to such an extent that service users are put at risk
    Numbers of people living on the streets in Lewisham will rise significantly
    Anti social behaviour on the streets in Lewisham may rise significantly
    Section E – Asset Rationalisation – proposed cuts of £949K
    Mainly unspecified plans to save on buildings e.g trying to relocate community and youth services into schools and (£25k) by dimming the street lights!
    Section J – School Effectiveness – proposed cuts of £751K
    Mainly by charging schools more for services such as Educational Psychologists – so increased pressure on school budgets and/or cuts in service if schools don’t buy-in.
    Section K – Crime Reduction – proposed cuts of £974K
    £574k from cuts in Drug and Alcohol Services
    £200 k from cuts to the Youth Offending Service
    “Young people will not be able to attend the diverse range of programmes that are currently in existence which will be tailored to their offending behaviour. Instead, young people will attend more generic programmes”
    £200K from cuts to Integrated Offender Management Service
    “Those who are involved in the criminal justice system are notoriously difficult to engage in drug/alcohol treatment services. Without additional support this engagement is even less likely which means that their criminal activity is likely to continue with all the associated impacts on other Lewisham residents”.
    Section L – Culture and Community Services £1.4M cuts proposed
    L1: Most of this is £1.125M cuts in voluntary and community service grants – out of a total £5.9M budget – so a 20% cut overall.
    The various organisations supported by grants are not listed but:
    “The level of reduction proposed is likely to lead to some organisations losing significant levels of funding. This could mean the closure of some groups and the loss of some services that are no longer deemed to be a priority”.
    Also L2: Cuts in staffing in the libraries service
    Section N – Environmental Services - £740K
    N1: £340K Closing or ceasing to maintain a number of small parks, highway enclosures and closed churchyards (and trying to get ‘community involvement’ to do the jobs instead)
    “Depends on appetite and capacity of local groups to take on  extra responsibilities ... Reduced maintenance regimes may lead to more visible litter, graffiti and increased fly tipping

    N2: Reduction in street cleaning frequency £400K
    Specifics are not spelled out but “No of posts affected 14 ... There will be a reduction in the frequencies that we sweep all residential roads which will result in a build up of litter, detritus and weeds. Streets will be unswept for longer periods”
    O: Public Services – proposed cuts of £650K
    Includes ending of discretionary Freedom Pass scheme (200K savings).
    “There will be a high impact on persons with a disability as it withdraws their current entitlement to free travel. Sampling shows that 68% of these will be entitled to alternative travel concessions. The remaining 32% will no longer have support. Information will be provided to all about alternatives and most economic ways to use public transport”
    Q Safeguarding / Early Intervention Services further cuts of £4.1M for 2015/16
    Q1 Redesign Children Centre offer
    Changing children centre contracts as they are re-procured to:
    A shift the costs of providing reception and administration
    B reduce the unit cost of working with each family
    C reduce the number of families to be worked with by a third
    The proposal means that Children’s Centres will be redesignated so that they will be allowed to offer a lower standard of service “So that they can operate more flexibly and at a lower cost” They may e.g. open for fewer hours/weeks.
    The proposal is also to support 3800 families rather than the 5500 families currently targeted by the service – i.e a third fewer families.
    Q2: Reduction in Youth Service Provision – proposed cuts of EITHER £3.1 M now OR £1.4 M this year – but rest of cut to be made in three years - given that the total budget is £3.5M, this means the reduction of the Youth Service to “a statutory service model only”
    Option 1 looks at an option of mutualisation of the youth service following savings. “The proposal is the Council should stop funding the mutual entirely after the third year, generating a further £1.7m saving. There is a risk that the mutual will not at the end of 3 years, be sustainable and therefore a risk, that without continuing Council funding at some level, services cannot be guaranteed”

    Option 2 considers a move straight away to a statutory service only model.
    “Given the extent of savings required by the Council and the risk that option 1 could still require Council funding after a mutual has been in operation for three years, option 2 proposes moving directly to a statutory service model only”.
    Even if Option One was considered, these are the immediate cuts proposals:
    "The Youth Service currently maintains 7 youth centres and 5 adventure playgrounds (APGs) ... In order to release savings across the Service it is proposed that the Service retains 5 youth centres and 5 APGs, while removing staff from 2 youth centres and reducing front-line staff headcount commensurately. Removing staff from these sites will allow the 2 centres to be operated by voluntary/community providers or to close. Currently proposals are to close or pass on Ladywell and Rockbourne youth centres
    From its youth centres, the Service operates a street-based outreach capacity comprised of 3.4 fte support youth workers with an ability to operate 15 hours of outreach work per week. It is proposed that the Service remove this capacity.
    Ending Council-run provision at 2 youth centres and ending the street-based outreach capacity will mean Reduction of Youth Workers from 17.5fte to 10 fte, and reduction of manager and business support capacity yields a savings of £370,000
    In order to release further budget savings, but still maintain the Service’s integral relationship with the community and voluntary sector, it is proposed that the commissioning fund be reduced by 31%. (savings of £293,000).The commissioning fund is used to procure a broad range of activities focused on building life skills for young people from the voluntary sector that serve to supplement the Youth Service’s direct delivery and ensure a range of youth provision across the borough”.
    One third reduction in the commissioning fund will lessen provision and also require a reprioritisation and reallocation across currently commissioned providers. There are various voluntary sector providers who rely on Council and Youth Service funding to sustain operations and it is likely that some providers will have to either reduce or suspend operations.

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Use your vote - and vote YES YES in the NUT ballot

The following mailing is being sent to Lewisham NUT members at their home address:

NUT members have taken part in a series of strikes to oppose this Government’s attacks on our pay, pensions and working conditions. Of course, these attacks, alongside other damaging education policies, are attacks on our pupil’s learning conditions too.

We know that NUT members have responded magnificently to their Union’s call to action and sacrificed their pay to take part in those strikes. Now the Union wants to be sure that you agree that, having started this campaign and made those sacrifices, we have to continue it until we have achieved our key demands.

That’s why every NUT member is being given their chance to vote in this consultative ballot. To help you vote, you will be able to give your response by post, telephone or online. You will be voting on two questions:
1. Do you support the continuation of the Union's Stand Up for Education campaign?
2. Would you support the Union calling up to two further days of strike action between now and the general election if the Union believes it will help in negotiations with Nicky Morgan?

The responses to this ballot will, for better or worse, have a significant say in how the Union takes forward its campaign from now. Whatever your views, your vote matters, so please use it. However, we hope you vote YES!

Our action has helped persuade the Government to pull back from some of their worst plans - like plans to cut our holidays - and helped persuade David Cameron that it was time to give Michael Gove the boot as well!

However, we didn’t succeed in stopping the Government imposing performance-related pay. We are having to pay more for a worse pension. Excessive workload and 60+ hour weeks are still exhausting teachers and causing many to quit.

These attacks aren’t just bad for teachers, they’re bad for education too. If we retreat now, then we can be sure that Ministers will push ahead with further damaging attacks. However, if we keep up our action and campaigning, then we can secure further gains.

The months up to the General Election are a time when politicians are particularly susceptible to pressure - from campaigning and lobbying, but, above all, from the threat of strike action. PLEASE VOTE YES TO QUESTION ONE

There are lots of ways to campaign. We hope NUT members will be leafleting parents with the new NUT manifesto. Nationally, the Union will continue negotiating to try and persuade the new Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, to change course. However, experience tells us that strike action remains our most persuasive weapon. 

That’s why the National Union is seeking your backing to take up to two further days of strike action between now and the General Election in May. If we are serious about defending teachers, then that is action that we have to be ready to take - if not more!

A big YES vote to further strike action will send an important message to politicians seeking our votes - from whatever party - that teachers aren’t about to retreat and allow the next Government to make things even worse for teachers and education. 

A big YES vote can help persuade Nicky Morgan that she needs to make serious concessions in negotiations with the NUT. It will also give confidence to the whole Union to maintain our vital campaign. PLEASE VOTE YES TO QUESTION TWO

www.teachers.org.uk/lewisham, the Lewisham NUT website, has links to two surveys that let school groups feedback views in more detail on questions like: What demands should we be aiming to win on pay, pensions and workload? How much strike action would your school group be prepared to take - and what would be your preferred action calendar? PLEASE COMPLETE THE SURVEYS